Kale mac and cheese

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

Mac and cheese is a perennial favorite for a reason. You can quickly make a huge batch and reheat it as needed. It’s perfect filler for lunchboxes or to whip up for dinner. And you can throw in any old proteins or veggies you have lying around. And it gets eaten. Huzzah!

Take me to the recipe!

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

So! Easter and Passover just happened/are happening. My kiddo is at the age where he asks a lot of questions about everything, the deeper the subject, the better. The other day he hit me with, “Before I was born, where was I?”

Let me be clear: He was NOT asking where babies come from. He was asking a philosophical question about personhood. He wanted to know where his “self” resided before he had a body. He didn’t put it in those words, but that was the gist.

WHAT? WHY?

As you can imagine, religious holidays are tricky for us because this kid is constantly asking questions and we don’t always have great answers. “Why didn’t the Easter Bunny come to our house” was a little easier to handle than “Am I going to die?” but it was still tough! I stayed away from talking about religion and talked more about traditions, but I know that the questions are going to keep coming and get EVEN MORE complicated as his awareness grows.

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

Since parenting has required so much mental gymnastics for us lately, I want to keep dinner as simple as possible. So, Mac and Cheese!

As you may or may not know, I prefer a stovetop mac and cheese to the baked kind. I feel like the baking process can dry out the sauce, which is not tasty, IMO.

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

A couple of notes:

  • Do cook the kale a bit before pureeing. The more you cook the greens, the smoother the sauce will be. I only cook it for a few minutes though because I don’t want to lose too many of the nutrients.

  • Turn down the heat when making the sauce. It takes a bit longer, but will hopefully keep the milk solids from separating, which can make dairy-based sauces look curdled.


Kale mac and cheese

Time: About 25 minutes, mostly active
Yield: About 4 cups or 30 oz

1 lb small, dry pasta
1 bunch Lacinto kale, leaves stripped off of the tough center ribs
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk, divided (I used whole, but you can certainly use a lower fat variety if you like)
½ cup reserved pasta/kale cooking water
6-7 cups shredded cheese (combination of any nutty cheese like cheddar, gruyere, gouda, and Parmesan)
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp sea salt
Several cracks of black pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions.

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter over medium-high heat in a medium sauce pan. Add the flour, stir well, and let bubble for 1 minute.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, add 1 and 1/2 cups of milk, and whisk to combine.

Add garlic, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Let the milk heat up until there are small bubbles forming along the sides of the pan, about 3-4 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted, allowing the cheese sauce to bubble slowly, but try not to get the sauce too hot, about 4-5 more minutes.

Remove pasta from boiling water and add kale. Blanch for 2 minutes and remove greens to a blender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Add ½ cup of milk to the blender and puree until smooth, adding the reserved cooking water as necessary to puree the kale.

Add the greens and stir well. Allow the mixture to come up to a simmer again.

Combine 2 cups of the sauce with the cooked pasta and stir well. Add any additional toppings you might like.

Kale mac and cheese | Me & The Moose. This vegged-up pasta sauce looks green and packs a nutritional punch, but tastes like cheese. #meandthemoose #macandcheese #kale #greensauce #kidfood #dinnerrecipes #vegetarianrecipes

Almond butter quinoa muffins

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What these muffins have: Good fats, protein, Omega-3s, deliciousness.

What these muffins don't have: Gluten, dairy, refined sugar, wheat, eggs, soy.

Bonus feature: The muffins only require one bowl!

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The new school year already started for lots of the country, but here in CT, M's preschool starts again on Monday. I've been thinking about quick ways to begin our day with protein that don't require cooking in the morning. These muffins are the answer!

Half of the flour is ground quinoa, which has lots of protein. The other half is oatmeal. I originally made these muffins with almond flour instead of oats for even more protein, but the almond flour was so dense that the muffins stuck to the roof of your mouth. You could just feed your kid a spoonful of almond butter and save yourself the trouble.

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With the oatmeal, the muffins are still substantial, but they're no longer dense. They're actually a smidge crumbly because I omitted eggs and any other binding agent. I wanted them to stay vegan and I don't always have the patience to make a flax egg. Letting them cool completely before eating them made them sturdier too. 

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For the first day of school, I thought it might be nice to add some blueberry chia jam and a quick icing to make the muffins more special. (I also called them breakfast cupcakes, which went over VERY WELL.) The jam is simple and free of any added sugar. I used cream cheese and maple syrup for my frosting, but you could also use coconut cream or a pre-made dairy-free topping.

You could also mix the chia jam with some yogurt for a delicious breakfast for the younger set (or the parental set, if I'm honest).

If you're avoiding nuts, substitute coconut or rice milk for the almond milk and use sunflower seed butter in place of the almond butter. Still delicious!

Important note: These muffins are best when fresh, so I recommend freezing 3/4 of the batch and then either defrosting a serving at night for breakfast the next morning, or toasting a frozen one right before eating it.

 

Almond butter quinoa muffins

2 large mashed banana
1 cup creamy natural almond butter, well mixed (or nut butter or seed butter of your choice)
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or rice, coconut, or other non-dairy milk of choice)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup quinoa flour
1 cup quick oats
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pie spice (or cinnamon)
2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas. Add the almond butter, maple syrup, almond milk, and vanilla extract and mix well.

Add the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Mix well. Add the apple cider vinegar and mix again. Let the mixture sit while you prep the muffin tin and prepare the jam and icing (if using).

When ready, spoon the mixture into your muffin tin until each opening is half full.

Bake for 12-14 mins or until the tops turn golden brown and the muffins are firm to the touch.

Let cool completely in the muffin tin before serving.

Yield: 18 muffins

 

For the Blueberry chia jam:
1 pint blueberries
1 ½ Tbsp chia seeds

Put the blueberries into a small sauce pan and cook over a medium low flame until the berries have broken down and become syrupy, about 15 minutes.

Let cool for 5 minutes and add the chia seeds. Mix well.

Place the mixture in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes or until ready to use.

Yield: 1 Tbsp per muffin

 

For the frosting (optional):
2 ¼ cups whipped cream cheese
6 Tbsp maple syrup

Mix the cream cheese and maple syrup well with a spatula. The mixture will look curdled at first. Continue mixing until the two ingredients have come together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Yield: 2 Tbsp per muffin

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S'mores energy balls

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Happy national s'mores day everyone! While I love a real s'more, I don't dig activities that include both my toddler and fire, so we're sticking with this faux, somewhat healthier version. Also, these energy balls can be packed in a lunchbox (after subbing the nuts for pumpkin or sunflower seeds if necessary).

Your kids' teachers and counselors will thank you for skipping the sticky marshmallows and melted chocolate.

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These balls start as your basic date, cocoa powder, nut, and chia seed energy ball. And if s'mores aren't your thing, you can absolutely stick with this base and have a delicious treat.

But, since it's summer and who doesn't want a s'more or something a little special, I like to stick some lightly toasted marshmallows in the middle and coat the outside in graham cracker crumbs. A couple of easy swaps here make this free of gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, and soy. (Look for soy-free marshmallows; gluten-free graham crackers; and, as I said before, swap the nuts for pumpkin or sunflower seeds.)

One note about the toasted marshmallows: Since they're so small, toasting them makes them a bit crunchy. You can absolutely use untoasted marshmallows to have that soft texture in the center, but to me, the taste of slightly burned sugar is more s'more-like. I also like a little bit of crunch in the middle of a soft energy ball anyway.

 

A note about the graham cracker coating: If you can, store the crushed graham crackers in an air-tight container and roll the balls right before eating. Otherwise, the crumbs can get soft.

So many texture issues!

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S'mores energy balls

12 medjool dates
½ cup cashews (I like to use roasted, lightly salted cashews)
2-3 Tbsp cocoa powder (depending on how chocolate-y you like things)
2-3 tsp water
1 tbsp chia seeds
Pinch of kosher salt
15 mini marshmallows
5 graham crackers

Pit the dates and place them in a large food processor. Add the cashews (or seeds, if using), cocoa powder, chia seeds, and 2 teaspoons of water. Blend until the mixture starts to form a large ball, about 3-4 minutes. If your mixture won't come together in a large ball with the machine running, add the final teaspoon and blend until you have a large ball.

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place your mini marshmallows so that none are touching. Toast them in an oven or toasted oven heated to 400 for about 1-2 minutes. The regular oven will toast the marshmallows very quickly, so watch them like a hawk. You can even leave the door open slightly to make sure that the marshmallows don’t burn too quickly. The toaster oven is somewhat easier to control, but you still have to watch the marshmallows very closely.

Place the graham crackers into a large bag and crush them with your hands, a rolling pin, or a heavy can.

To make the balls, measure out a slightly heaping tablespoon of the date and chocolate mixture. With wet hands, roll the mixture into a ball. Make a large hole in the center and add three toasted marshmallows. Fold the mixture over the marshmallows and roll into a ball again.

Roll each ball in the crushed graham crackers.

Yield: 10 energy balls

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Sheet pan dinner: Roasted white fish and cabbage tacos

Roasted white fish, cabbage, and scallion tacos that all cook together on a sheet pan.
Roasting the fish, scallions, and cabbage on a sheet pan make an easy weeknight taco night with almost no clean up.

The dog days of summer are here in the Northeast and it. is. sweaty. I'm hankering for things that are raw or minimally cooked, so a sheet pan dinner may seem counterintuitive. But the cooking here is very quick, requires very few dishes, and the end product leaves us feeling satisfied, but not stupified because being really hot and really full is like entering the third ring of hell.

Taco night, but easier, healthier, and more interesting.

(As always, skip to the next photo to avoid the toddler update.)

Speaking of hell (KIDDING), we're in that annoying place where the things our kid does seem SO AWFUL to us, but when I tell others about his behavior, I'm usually met with, "Yeah, that sounds about right for a 3-year-old." For instance, I just about blacked out with rage (though I think I handled it okay), when M aimed his stream directly at the back of the toilet instead of into the bowl, effectively spraying our entire bathroom with pee. He thought this was HILARIOUS, while I floated out of my body and burst into a million pieces. The first person I told about this replied, "If he ever has a brother, they'll probably do it together."

Don't get me wrong, it's VERY comforting when other people are completely unfazed by M's behavior. But I'm still left wondering if I'm the world's least effective parent. It can be hard to process.

But I also get it. When I tell someone else about M's behavior that's driving me crazy, to them, it's an isolated incident. But when I'm asking him to put on his shoes for the 20th time after struggling to get him to do five other things in the past hour, that shoe battle feels so much more intense and difficult.

Basically what I'm saying is that 3 has been a tough age so far and that on exhausting days, the last thing I want to do is fight with dinner too (what a segue, huh?).

The white fish roasts on a bed of lemons and limes.

This dinner is partly steamed and partly roasted. Roasting the fish with the veggies proved counterproductive because a lot of liquid came out of the fish while it cooked, which led to steamed veggies instead of roasted ones. No thanks. 

Green and red cabbage are perfect for roasting with fish because they cook fast and get both melty and crispy.

Instead, you're going to wrap up the fish on a bed of lemon and lime in parchment bundles and let them steam on top of the cabbage and scallions to achieve the best of both cooking methods while still only using one pan. Because, it's hot. Here is a handy illustration of my favorite folding method:

So! Wrap up the fish and let it steam in the citrus. Chop the cabbage and scallions, toss with some olive oil, and throw the whole mess into the oven. While it's cooking, heat some taco shells, whizz some avocado crema in the blender, and prep any other toppings you might want (cheese, tomatoes, jicama, beans, etc). Tonight's dinner can be ready in about 30 minutes and is a nice departure from the usual taco night.

Wrapping the white fish in parchment packages helps retain their moisture while also letting the cabbage and scallions get roasted and crispy. It also decreases the mess even more.
Parchment contains the moisture so that the fish steams while the veggies roast.

Roasted cabbage fish tacos with avocado chipotle crema  

½ small head of red cabbage, roughly chopped
½ small head of napa cabbage, roughly chopped (about 6 cups total cabbage)
8 scallions, trimmed and cut in half width-wise
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large lemon
3 large limes, divided
1 ¼ lb cod or other firm white fish (four medium fillets)
1 Tbsp mayo
1 large avocado
Juice of 1 lime (about 1-2 Tbsp)
4-6 Tbsp water
1 small clove garlic
1-2 tsp chipotles in adobo or chipotle hot sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt
12 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 400.

Toss the cabbage and scallions with 2 Tbsp of olive oil and salt and spread onto a baking sheet. Set aside.

Slice the lemon and one of the limes. Spread out four sheets of parchment paper or tin foil on your countertop. Place 2 or 3 slices of the lemon and lime in the middle of the parchment. Place one fish filet onto the citrus bed and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

To fold the bundles, bring the edges of the two longest sides of the parchment together and fold over three or four times until you can’t fold anymore without hitting the fish inside. Next, fold the sides toward the middle until you’ve made a tight rectangle around the fish. Place on top of the veggies, making sure to move the scallions out from beneath the fish and toward the edges of the sheet pan.

Roast until the veggies are wilted and lightly browned and the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 15 minutes. If desired, carefully remove the fish bundles, being aware of steam that might escape, and roast the veggies for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the chipotle avocado crema. Combine the mayo, avocado, lime juice, water, garlic, chipotles or hot sauce, and salt in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. If too thick, scrape down the sides and add more water a little bit at a time and blend again until you've reached the right consistency. 

Toast the corn tortillas and prep any other fixings you might want with your tacos (cheese, more avocado, beans, tomatoes, etc). Squeeze some more lime juice over the assembled tortillas and serve.

Yield: 4 servings of three tacos and 1 fish fillet each

Taco night and sheetpan dinner night in one! No mess!
Colorful and healthy family taco night.
Roasted cabbage and scallions are mellow enough for toddlers and picky eaters.

Corn dog fritters

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Hey all- it's July 4th, which means you may be feeling somewhat festive (or, at least, someone close to you is feeling festive enough to throw a BBQ. One of my favorite things when we lived in NYC was that Shake Shack would serve the most amazing corn dogs only on Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day.

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We've tried to recreate them at home and it's sort of a gross process. The smell of frying oil sticks around in my hair long after the dogs have been consumed. And, they require SO MUCH OIL. I mean, I was theoretically aware of how much was required to properly fry something, but doing it yourself is...jarring. 

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So instead, I tossed some hotdogs into my favorite corn fritter recipe, made a few tweaks, and called it a day. These guys are delicious and require a comparatively scant two tablespoons of oil. Use avocado oil and it's even a good fat! And since I've used corn flour instead of wheat flour, these fritters are naturally gluten-free.

 

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A couple of notes:
- Swap out the milk for almond or coconut milk to make these dairy-free.
- Cooking times on these fritters or patties vary widely. I made them once and they browned in less than 3 minutes. If I'm impatient about heating the oil, it takes up to 7 minutes for a golden crust to form.
- We've been getting our eggs from a local farm, so the sizes range from small to ostrich. Not really, but some of the eggs are gigantic. One of the giant ones is sufficient for this recipe, but if yours are a regular uniform size, use two.
- If you can, use fresh corn cut from the cob. It tastes so much better.

 

Corn dog fritters

½ cup corn flour
¼ cup fine corn meal
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp Aleppo pepper, cayenne pepper, or ½ tsp paprika
2 tsp honey
¼ cup milk
1 extra large egg (or 2 large eggs)
1 cup corn kernels (1 large ear)
1 cup chopped hotdogs (2 large)
2 Tbsp avocado oil for frying

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Let sit for about 5 minutes to let the baking soda activate- this is about the time it takes to get the oil hot.

Heat the oil over a medium-low flame until very hot. Add about ¼ cup of the corn mixture (for large patties) or 1/8 cup of corn mixture (for small fritters) and let them brown on one side before flipping, about 2-4 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until deep golden brown, again about 2-4 minutes.

Serve with ketchup, mustard, and whatever other dipping sauces you might like.

Yield: 6-7 large patties or 14-16 small fritters

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